We can indeed know that the bosom of the Father is our own basis and origin, and that our life and being find therein their life and principle. From this basis that is proper to us—that is, from the bosom of the Father, and from all that lives in him—shines forth an eternal brightness, the generation of the Son. And in this brightness, which is the Son, God sees himself openly, with all that lives in him. All those who, above their created being, are raised to a contemplative life, are one with this divine brightness. They are that brightness itself, and they see, feel and discover, under this divine light, that according to their ideal or uncreated being, they are themselves this abyss of simplicity, the brightness whereof shines without means in divine modes. Thus the contemplatives attain their eternal exemplar, after whose image they have been created, and they contemplate God in all things, without distinction, by a simple gaze, in the divine brightness. ~ John of Ruysbroeck
The concluding chapter of Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics by Joseph Marechal, S.J. deals with how one’s world conception colours his mystical experience. As a methodological principle, Fr. Marechal is not concerned with the truth of the metaphysical systems, but rather with its psychological effects. The obvious problem with his study is how to define “mystical experience”, since Christian ecstasy and yogic Samadhi are often included as such experiences along with trances induced by hallucinogens, ritual dance, etc. This, then, is his definition mystical experience:
Mystical experience is a religious experience which is esteemed as superior to the normal: more direct, more intimate, or more rare.The corollary is that there are three fundamental elements:
- A religious doctrine—rational or revealed—which is a metempirical doctrine, relative to the Absolute.
- Psychological facts of actual experience that are relatively rare or exceptional, and susceptible of a religious interpretation.
- A synthesis of doctrine and psychology which interprets the psychological facts as a function of the doctrine.
AnimismInferior systems have not yet achieved a unity of thought from the plurality of sense impressions. An example is animism which postulates metempirical “souls” behind the world of outward experience. The medicine man or sorcerer will associate strange subjective states with these hidden entities. This includes experiences, among others, such as:
- Dreams with a sacred content
- Narcotic-induced delirium
- Trances resulting from extreme physical ascesis
- Hysterical ecstasies brought on by music or scents
- Man’s consciousness of his own ego, at once infinite and limited
- His perception of the universe
- His thought seeking the Absolute
- The source of his potentialities of action in the physical order
- The law governing his attitude and the key that unlocks his destiny in the moral order
Dualism and PessimismDualist systems see the universe as the expression of the conflict of two eternal principles: e.g., Being or the Good vs non-being or Evil. Such viewpoints lead to destructive asceticism and negative mysticism. That is, one’s destiny is determined more by the attempted renunciation of the “evil spirit” rather than by a path of positive and uplifting stages. The world is experienced a being limited by the unreal or not-being. The universe is seen as evil and illusory.
Marechal refers to Arthur Schopenhauer‘s philosophical system, although not strictly a dualism, but a pessimism. The will to live creates a universe of “my” representations, which is nevertheless evil and meaningless. Only the renunciation of that will can be the solution. Again, beyond the negation of phenomena, there is nothing positive. In Manichaean, and even Buddhist mysticism, object, actions, etc., are all limitations; that is the sole Evil. Such mystical practices focus on overcoming the limitations of the World of Becoming, without consideration of what lies beyond in the World of Being.
Pantheistic MonismThis is a more advanced of sophisticated metaphysical system, what we may call the God of the philosophers. There is no opposition to Being; rather primacy belongs to the Absolute, which is beyond dualism. The earliest such systems derive from the Upanishads or Vedanta. The essential basis of this philosophy is the identity of Brahman and the Atman, which is the sole reality. The apparent multiplicity of things and souls is illusory. Hence, man’s destiny is extirpate in his soul the illusory multiplicity of objects and acts to end up within the Atman. The Atman is known, but not as an object. Hence, the only goal is to “be” the Atman.
Comparable Western systems never quite go that far, since the idea of an ascent to God via created things is not denied. The influence of Plotinus affects not only the West, but Sufism and even Indian philosophers. God, or the One, eternally creates the world by casting out his rays like a sun to the “very confines of non-being”. Then the things, which are divine fragments, have a desire to return to the unity of the absolute Good.
The human soul is between the pure Ideas and matter; it is attracted towards the Center by Love. If love predominates in the soul, it begins to be concentrated. Firstly, it apprehends intelligible beauty through the senses. Then by contemplation, it is purified and unified: “to contemplate is to become what is contemplated.” From sensible beauty, the soul passes to the lower intellect of concepts, or psyche. Then it becomes the higher Intelligence, or nous.
Still the drive of Eros leads it to seek the perfect unity of the absolute Good. Thus it contemplated Being as the summit of the intelligible world. Yet, there is still the duality of Essence and Existence. Ultimately, though Love, even that duality is overcome in the One.
Later metaphysicians such as Giordano Bruno, Benedict Spinoza, or Johann Fichte are in this stream. For example, in the negative direction, Spinoza defines man’s moral end as the freedom gained over inadequate ideas and the passions. Yet, there is the positive direction of the “intellectual love of God”.
Fichte, from whom Evola borrowed much, discovers the pure I, or spirit, opposing to itself the not-I, or universe, so that it may progressively know itself and conquer itself by gaining self-mastery. The human intelligence is raised to the dignity of an Absolute, i.e., a “mysticism of becoming God.”
The point is that “metaphysics can invest the ordinary operations of our understanding with a mystical significance.” However, Marechal identifies the mysticism that such systems inspire as purely “natural”, achieved through thought, and lacking any notion of “grace”. In short, the distinction between nature and supernature is obscured.
Monotheism and Supernatural MysticismFinally, Marechal address strict monotheism as the answer to the question of the relationships between the Ego, the universe, and the Absolute. God, then, is strictly transcendent without any common measure with that which is not himself. He possesses the fullness of Being which excludes not-Being.
The universe then is a “becoming” proceeding from God and arranged between the limits of pure Being and pure Not-Being. Although external to God, it is moved and directed by divine action. Finite things do not create themselves as in in monistic systems; yet they are not evil or nothingness as in the pessimist dualist systems. They are free creations of love and possess value measured by their degree of participation in the perfection of the divine Being.
Hence, the created intelligences and wills will tend to reproduce the divine Ideal and try to make progress towards it. Hence, the mysticism from this view will have many analogies with Neoplatonism. Creation is grafted onto the closed cycle of the operations of Divine creation as an epicycle. At the beginning of the epicycle, the divine actions descends into the innermost elements of things, giving them their “nature”.
Next the flood ascends back to God, as every material beings “tends to the perfection of its species”. The entire physical world tends toward vital unity in stages:
- The vital unity, through its comprehensive interiority, foretells and prepares for consciousness
- Sensibility (or sense experience) reflects the unconscious world of matter and brings it to the threshold of the idea
- Then, the intelligence recognizes the intelligible in the data of sense
- Finally, it discovers in its “becoming” no other end except God himself. This closes the epicycle.
The Intellect tends toward the assimilation of Being as know, or, Absolute Truth. The Will tends to the possession of Being as absolute Good. The two tendencies converge on the direct vision of God. However, insofar as the soul is restricted to the plane of creation, there must also be an initiative from God that expands the intelligence and reveals himself.
This initiative from above leads to higher states than what can be achieved through the natural mysticism of monism, as it opens up the horizons of grace and supernature. It does not reject the natural metaphysical systems, but builds on them. Paradoxically, it leads to unity with the divine while retaining the individuality of the soul. That is the highest achievement of the Western Tradition.
SummaryMarechal summarizes the three principal types of mystical theories:
- Negative mysticism. A mysticism of simple liberation, the result of dualistic cosmologies and philosophic pessimism.
- Positive mysticism. A mysticism of divine becoming immanent in the soul.
- Theistic mysticism. The mysticism of objective striving toward God by means of knowledge and love.